The LeBron James saga: When did basketball get infected by reality TV?
Image Credit: Bob Luckey/Greenwich Times/AP ImagesLet’s just say up front that I am not a big basketball fan. What I am a fan of, though, is a good sports story, and this past week has provided one of the most fascinating spectacles I’ve seen in a long time: LeBron James’ extended, torturous mulling over his free-agency prospects. It culminated last night in a live announcement on ESPN where the 25-year old forward confirmed he would be leaving his hometown team the Cleveland Cavaliers—not to mention disappointing high-profile suitors like the New York Knicks and the Chicago Bulls—to play for the Miami Heat with two fellow stars Dwyane Wade and Chris Bosh. As an outsider, it’s been interesting to read the morning-after commentary from sports columnists, almost all of whom have been brutal toward James. And it’s not necessarily because he decided to ditch Cleveland or jilt New York—it seems he was guaranteed to piss people off no matter what he did. It’s the way he opted to do it—the deliberately agonizing build-up, the live announcement with every camera pointed in his direction, his own admission that the teams he was rejecting were learning his decision at the very same moment as the rest of America. The whole thing felt stage-managed to death, layered with narcissism, and more than a little awkward. In short, it felt like reality TV.
Yesterday, ESPN’s invaluable columnist Bill Simmons offered a very entertaining 23 Random Thoughts before the “Lebronocalypse.” Among them, he pointed out that LeBron’s future Heat teammates Bosh and Wade were being followed by camera crews for a possible documentary on the free-agency season. “As any reality-show junkie knows, if there’s no drama, you have to manufacture it,” Simmons wrote. “So what works? Indecision. Meetings. More meetings. A lot of ‘agonizing.’ If this footage ever sees the light of day, I bet the acting is worse than your average episode of The Hills. You wait.” He wasn’t talking about LeBron at that moment, but after last night’s show, the comparison is just sitting there in the spotlight, begging to be made. Has this really become the path to success in our media culture? Turning every major life decision into a sort-of entertaining, sort-of cringe-y Rose Ceremony? I’m not trying to moralize about the evils of reality TV—after all, I continue to enjoy and laugh at/with a lot of those shows. But I do get uncomfortable when I see a superstar athlete like LeBron James turn himself into the Bachelor. What do you think? Was LeBron live TV stunt shameless or savvy?